A dark past, a restrained present, and an apocalyptic future: time perspective, personality, and life satisfaction among anorexia nervosa patients

PeerJ. 2017 Sep 14:5:e3801. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3801. eCollection 2017.


Background: Despite reporting low levels of well-being, anorexia nervosa patients express temperament traits (e.g., extraversion and persistence) necessary for high levels of life satisfaction. Nevertheless, among individuals without eating disorders, a balanced organization of the flow of time, influences life satisfaction beyond temperamental dispositions. A balanced time perspective is defined as: high past positive, low past negative, high present hedonistic, low present fatalistic, and high future. We investigated differences in time perspective dimensions, personality traits, and life satisfaction between anorexia nervosa patients and matched controls. We also investigated if the personality traits and the outlook on time associated to positive levels of life satisfaction among controls also predicted anorexia patients' life satisfaction. Additionally, we investigated if time perspective dimensions predicted life satisfaction beyond personality traits among both patients and controls.

Method: A total of 88 anorexia nervosa patients from a clinic in the West of Sweden and 111 gender-age matched controls from a university in the West of Sweden participated in the Study. All participants responded to the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, the Ten Item Personality Inventory, and the Temporal Satisfaction with Life Scale.

Results: A t-test showed that patients scored higher in the past negative, the present fatalistic, and the future dimensions, lower in the past positive and the present hedonistic dimensions, higher in conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness, and lower in life satisfaction. Regression analyses showed that life satisfaction was predicted by openness to experience and emotional stability for controls and by emotional stability among patients. When time dimensions were entered in the regression, emotional stability and the past negative and past positive time dimensions predicted life satisfaction among controls, but only the past positive and present hedonistic time dimensions predicted life satisfaction among patients.

Conclusion: Anorexia patients were less satisfied with life despite being more conscientious, social, and agreeable than controls. Moreover, compared to controls, patients had an unbalanced time perspective: a dark view of the past (i.e., high past negative), a restrained present (i.e., low present hedonistic) and an apocalyptic view of the future (i.e., high present fatalistic). It is plausible to suggest that, therapeutic interventions should focus on empowering patients to cultivate a sentimental and positive view of the past (i.e., high past positive) and the desire to experience pleasure without concern for future consequences (i.e., high present hedonistic) so that they can make self-directed and flexible choices for their own well-being. Such interventions might have effects on life satisfaction beyond the patients' temperamental disposition.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Personality; Temporal life satisfaction; Time perspective; Well-being.

Grants and funding

The development of this article was funded by a grant from the Swedish Research Council (Dnr. 2015-01229). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.